Tattoo, Part One of Three
Yesterday I had the first of three sessions for my very first tattoo.
I’d been talking about this for much of 2019. If I was going to do it, I wanted to go all out. I knew I wanted something that would represent my family, so I talked to Amy and the kids about what sort of imagery would best represent them.
Amy liked the idea of a tree: natural and outdoorsy, with strong roots and branches. For my son Jamie, a dragon was the obvious choice. And for Skylar, we went with a moon. I spent a while looking at artists online, scrolling through portfolios, before finally settling on James Hurley at Eclectic Art Tattoo in Lansing.
I went in to meet with him in August. We talked about what I wanted, and he sounded confident he could pull it all together and create something I was happy with.
Here’s the “Before” picture from yesterday morning — my last day ever of having a naked left arm. (Click on any of the pics if you want a larger view.)
James was finishing up inking the drawing to create a stencil when I arrived. This was my first time seeing his design, which made me nervous. What if I didn’t like it? What if I wanted him to make lots of changes?
I needn’t have worried. I peeked over his shoulder, saw what he was touching up, and loved it. It got the three elements I wanted, and the overall image is very on-brand for me 🙂
He finished up, then photocopied the whole thing to check the sizing against my arm. He wasn’t sure if this would be too big, or if we should go a tiny bit smaller, but in the end we both decided to keep it as is. So the photocopy went through another machine to print the stencil. It reminded me some of the old dittos we used to get back in elementary school…
Now it was time to prep my arm. I’d shaved beforehand, but he ran the razor over my arm to catch any strays and get rid of my arm stubble. He cleaned the skin and applied the stencil. He also sketched a bit with Sharpie, kind of marking where the foliage would eventually go for the tree, and giving a sense of the boundaries for the image.
For the first time, I got to see what this thing would look like on my arm.
Spoiler: I liked it. Purple ditto lines and all.
Now there was nothing left but to get on the table and let James start firing a motorized needle into my skin.
He started with some of the smallest lines — the tufts of grass around the dragon’s feet — to give me a chance to get used to the pain. This was my first tattoo, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but my daughter had described it as feeling like a kitten’s claw scratching a sunburn.
That was pretty accurate. And as someone who’s gotten plenty of kitten scratches over the years, the pain wasn’t bad.
He’d ink a few lines, wipe away the excess ink, and repeat, pausing as needed to dip more ink. Like a motorized fountain pen. (There was also a brief delay for equipment troubleshooting, since the he was using had a short.)
Here’s what his workspace looked like after we’d been going for a while…
All total, he spent close to four hours working on my arm, stopping for a few breaks for both of us. Two or three times, he’d spray me down in Bactine and wrap the arm in Bactine-soaked paper towels, which was heavenly. A few minutes of that took all the pain away.
Because by now, he was doing some of the longer and thicker lines. Some of those lines went into the more sensitive skin close to the armpit. Basically, it felt the same as before, but the sunburn was worse and the kittens had longer claws. There was a little swelling with the lines, and a few tiny spots of blood, but nothing bad or worrisome.
We had a little time left when he finished inking the last of the lines, so he started on some shading, talking about how excited he was at the lighting possibilities in the image, and all of the depth and development yet to come. You could tell he was into this, and genuinely liked the artwork he was creating, which is a good thing.
He also drew in some light gray lines that will serve more as guidance for the next round, but after that, he’d done pretty much everything he could do for now. He talked about wanting to start on the color just so we could see what it looked like, but that would have to wait. He wiped me up and gave me one last, lovely Bactine wrap.
We went over care instructions. I’d get a breathable covering that stays on for three days. After that, wash 3 times/day and apply a thin layer of ointment until it’s healed, which could be a week or more. (With me being diabetic, I’m guessing it will be more.)
I’ve got three sessions scheduled. Number two will be in the beginning of January. We’ll start coloring things in then. I’m not sure how much we’ll get done in that session, and what will have to wait until the end of January. This is a good-sized tattoo, and that’s a lot of skin to color.
Here’s what I looked like at the end of it all.
It’s a bit sore — again, a lot like a sunburn. I couldn’t sleep on that arm last night, but I haven’t been sleeping well in months anyway, so it’s not like it caused me any additional trouble.
I’m really happy with how it looks so far. I feel like James really got what I wanted, even though I couldn’t really visualize it in my own head.
I’ve been looking forward to this for many months. Now, I just can’t wait to go back and get it finished!
Oh, and people have warned me that this is addictive. For now, I think I’m happy just getting this one completed. But I won’t rule out the possibility of another one of these days, if there’s something significant and meaningful I want to add. (And once I’ve replenished the tattoo budget!)
I’ll post more pics in January after we finish the next session.
December 5, 2019 @ 1:30 pm
Looks awesome Jim. Very nice tribute to the family.
December 5, 2019 @ 1:51 pm
That is an amazing pictures. I don’t think I could do the tattoo but it will be amazing when it is finished.
December 5, 2019 @ 1:51 pm
Awesome Jim! I love it! And Amy would too! I am 100% sure she is smiling down on you! ❤
John G. Hartness
December 5, 2019 @ 1:53 pm
That looks great, man. Welcome to the club. Next thing you’ll be racing Myke Cole to the top of the inked-up writers list.
John G. Hartness
December 5, 2019 @ 1:55 pm
Oh, and I’ve never had one that size that healed in a week. Maybe for Wolverine, but not for me. Probably a week of bad sunburn feeling, then a few days of tight and stretchy, then a few days of itchy. That’s how my big shoulder piece went, anyway.
December 5, 2019 @ 2:10 pm
I love this! It is absolute perfection. He nailed it and can’t wait to see it all finished. Amy definitely is smiling. I enjoyed reading about your experience. Super cool.
December 5, 2019 @ 2:31 pm
Lovely work! Four hours is grueling! The most I’ve ever managed was three, and that was for a thigh piece. As a warning, the color is a lot More than the lines.
December 5, 2019 @ 2:45 pm
December 5, 2019 @ 3:36 pm
So beautiful. You found a wonderful artist. The hardest part of healing for me is not picking at it when it starts to get scabby. Mine always looked kinds gross at that stage and it’s hard for me to resist seeing the true colors underneath. Hope healing goes well!
December 5, 2019 @ 3:38 pm
Where’s Jig? And Smudge?
December 5, 2019 @ 3:54 pm
That is pretty BAD ASS!!
Jim C. Hines
December 5, 2019 @ 4:02 pm
Hk hill – they’re hiding from the dragon, of course!
December 5, 2019 @ 4:53 pm
It looks great! It will look amazing once it is colored 🙂
I’m also a t1 diabetic, I have a big dragon tattoo across my shoulders and upper back. My healing took a little bit longer than normal but it was better than I expected, I hope yours will heal nicely as well.
December 5, 2019 @ 5:02 pm
It is beautiful!
Mason T. Matchak
December 5, 2019 @ 7:36 pm
That looks awesome and is such a perfect fantasy author tattoo. ^_^ Looking forward to seeing it complete.
December 5, 2019 @ 8:13 pm
Sweet! It’s looking awesome so far. Usually the color is a little more painful, as is any fill in, and that also can take longer to heal. Good luck with the healing process! Just remember that you want the area moist, but not soggy or dry. Can’t wait for updates!
December 6, 2019 @ 12:21 am
So lovely! The color does hurt a bit more, but after a little time the endorphins kick in and you are okay. Also – don’t try waxing your arm hair before the tattoo! Beloved tried that and wow, what an ingrown mess that turned into. Love the design and placement is great. Tattooing is really therapeutic for me. Ink is also terribly addictive, as you will discover.
December 6, 2019 @ 12:23 am
I got a tattoo twelve years ago and still haven’t felt an overwhelming urge to get more, so Results May Vary. I guess it depends on whether you only want things that are Really Important to you inked on your skin, and if so, how many things you count as Really Important.
On the other hand, I’ll never forget seeing the blackness welling up like I was bleeding ink. So writery.
December 6, 2019 @ 2:09 am
Also a diabetic- mine took about 3 weeks total to heal, though was smaller- I’m the one with rainbow colors and kitty paws in comments on FB. No ointment for me, 5 days with wrap and then liquid fragrance free soap to clean, pat not rub dry and an alcohol and fragrance free light water based lotion. It looks great so far!
December 6, 2019 @ 10:50 am
Absolutely stunning! Beautiful!
December 7, 2019 @ 4:47 am
It looks lovely!
I’m glad it’s not terribly painful.
December 7, 2019 @ 11:51 am
So fitting and beautiful. I need to get another tattoo! Can’t wait to see part two.
December 7, 2019 @ 2:14 pm
That’s a good looking piece of art. My one quibble is the dragon dominates the whole piece, which means the tree for your wife is background, not really blended in. Maybe that will change as it’s filled in, but those much heavier lines on the dragon are going to be hard to balance off against the lighter lines elsewhere. In any case, as long as you’re happy with it and your family is happy, kudos!
December 9, 2019 @ 11:33 pm
That’s a gorgeous design, and so right for you!
December 11, 2019 @ 10:55 am
Careful, Jim, you might get a goblin tattooed on your inner thigh! 😉
Looking forward to seeing it finished, looks like a great start.
December 16, 2019 @ 7:46 pm
Very cool. I got my first tattoo last year to celebrate turning 50. I got my second one six weeks later. I am now planning a third.
Yes, it can be addictive
Tattoo, Part Two of Three(?)
January 5, 2020 @ 8:39 pm
[…] back to Eclectic Art on Friday to get the next round of work done on the tattoo. James had done the linework and initial shading at the beginning of December. This time, he […]